L'orrore! L'orrore!

on June 11, 2008 by Steve Simels

May I just take a moment to go on record as saying that I totally don't get celebrated and influential Italian horror maestro Dario Argento?

I'll grant you, the man deserves numerous props for co-producing George Romero's great Dawn of the Dead, and the fact that he's father to Asia Argento (woo hoo!) means he's entitled to respect from mere mortals like you and I. But as a director? I'm sorry, I just don't get it. To me, he's Jess Franco with bigger budgets or Mario Bava without the genius; either way, I've never seen a film of his that I didn't think was a gratuitously violent mess, including his alleged masterpiece, Suspiria, which I find unwatchable. And I say this in the full knowledge that two of the critics I respect most -- former Premiere honcho Glenn Kenny and coolest-woman-on-the-planet Maitland McDonagh -- think he's the bees knees, stylish horror film-wise. [Full disclosure: I used to work with both Glenn and Maitland.]

Anyway, I bring this up because Argento's latest fright fest, the evocatively titled Mother of Tears, opened the other day, and the plot -- modern day Rome ablaze in an orgy of rape and murder kicked off when someone unearths the corpse of an ancient witch -- sounded nutty enough to be interesting.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read Maitland's review. Short version: she thinks it sucks. Well, actually she thinks it's "a debased parody of his earlier work" and "a crude, artless, bogey tale," which is pretty much the same thing, especially when you consider that she literally wrote the book on Argento scholarship/criticism. In any case, I figure I'll wait for this one on video.

One last note on Argento: To give the devil his due, he was responsible for one of the greatest moments in TV history. In 1985, he was plugging his (then) latest film, Creepers (Phenomena in Europe), a serial killer splatter epic featuring the young Jennifer Connelly. The studio had basically dumped it in a few theaters without any promotion, and the Great Man was reduced to doing publicity by appearing on the likes of the old Joe Franklin Show (and if you never saw that particular pop culture trainwreck you have no idea what fun you missed).

Anyway, this night Argento was included in a typically, uh, eclectic Franklin panel, along with (if memory serves) a guy who played the piano with his feet and a professional Bruce Springsteen impersonator. Talking to the latter, Franklin did one of his trademark whiplash headswings, turning in mid-sentence to Argento and asking out of the blue "So, Dario, any thoughts on the Boss, Mister Bruce Springsteen?"

Argento looked as non-plussed as you might imagine under the circumstances, and then, cocking an eye at Franklin (as if thinking, like most of Joe's guests, "Is this guy all there?") said in his heavily accented Italian, "I'm not-a de boss of nothing. I just make-a de Creepers."

Poor bastard sounded exactly like Chico Marx.


Tags: Dario Argento, Dawn of the Dead, Asia Argento, Jess Franco, Mario Bava, Suspiria, Mother of Tears

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